This Saturday night (April 30, 2011) at UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields," tough light heavyweight veterans Vladimir Matyushenko and Jason Brilz will duke it out in front of 55,000 fans in a battle for divisional relevancy.
The former IFL light heavyweight champion, Matyushenko, is an accomplished freestyle wrestler looking to make one final run before his fighting career is kaput. At 40 years old, he's already taken it further than most mixed martial arts fighters and he's not ready to hang 'em up just yet.
Brilz is returning from a very long layoff after losing a controversial decision to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 114 nearly 11 months ago. He's out to prove his performance against "Little Nog" wasn't a fluke and that he deserves to be fighting the elite of the division.
These are two men with similar fighting styles, competent striking and excellent ground games. Their bout has the potential to be either wildly entertaining or very bland.
Will their ground games neutralize each other and turn this match into a sloppy stand-up war? How much does "The Janitor" have left? Can Brilz take it to another extremely experienced foe for the second consecutive time?
Check out our complete fight preview after the jump:
Record: 25-5 overall, 6-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFO - Legend), Pedro Rizzo (UFC 41), Igor Pokrajac (UFC 103)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC on Versus 2), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Affliction: Day of Reckoning), Tito Ortiz (UFC 33)
How he got here: Vladimir Matyushenko is an extremely distinguished veteran grappler. He earned his nickname because the USA national wrestling team mistook him for a custodian during a wrestling meet in Siberia, a meet where Matyushenko defeated several top US wrestlers. After transitioning to MMA, "The Janitor" went on an impressive run and earned a title shot against Tito Ortiz at UFC 33. He fell short, but would put together another excellent streak outside the UFC, becoming the first IFL light heavyweight champion.
When Affliction folded, the Belarusian was signed to the UFC for one last stint and he's performed admirably, going 3-1 with his only loss being to eventual champion Jon Jones. Matyushenko was all set to face Jason Brilz at UFC 122 but Brilz had to back out with an injury. Instead, "The Janitor" wiped the floor with UFC newcomer Alexandre Ferreira with a TKO victory inside the first round. He's set to settle his unfinished business with Brilz on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Wrestling got him here and wrestling is the way he'll finish his career. Matyushenko wins fights either by grinding out decisions or wearing down opponents and taking their wills. He has respectable power standing and especially on the ground if he can posture up. Look for Matyushenko to not shy away from standing with Brilz and if the fight goes to the mats, he'll tirelessly work for top control and ground and pound. He needs to avoid being put on his back at all costs.
Record: 18-3-1 overall, 3-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Tim Boetsch (UFC 96), Brad Morris (UFC Fight Night 15), Eric Schafer (UFC on Versus 1)
Key Losses: Eliot Marshall (UFC 103)
How he got here: Jason Brilz, despite never training full time as a fighter, earned a trip to the UFC after putting together an impressive run of 17 victories compared to only one loss and one draw. The Nebraska wrestler had a steady but not impressive collegiate wrestling career and he mixed his wrestling with respectable submission skills to make himself a very competent ground fighter.
Brilz has gone 3-2 in his UFC career, with his only two losses being razor-close split decisions. His last loss to Rogerio Nogueira should have gone his way and many, including myself, felt he got robbed. It was a fight Brilz was expected to lose in highlight-reel fashion but he was competitive throughout the full fifteen minutes and really brought the fight to his experienced foe. Brilz has been sidelined for nearly a year with injuries and he's ready to take on another tough MMA veteran.
How he gets it done: One word perfectly describes Brilz: scrapper. He's not one of those fighters that's going to turn heads with his physique or technique, but he just plain gets things done. He's above average on the ground and he does an excellent job of working the positional game. Brilz does not have flashy power or submission skills but he forces opponents to fight his fight and that's the name of the game in MMA.
Look for Brilz to test his stand-up skills against Matyushenko and depending how he fares, he'll either look to keep striking or take the fight to the ground. The clinch is Brilz's friend in this fight and I wouldn't be surprised to see him work Matyushenko against the cage and look for takedowns along the fence.
Fight "X Factor:" The "X Factor" for this fight will be the striking game. Time and time again we see excellent grapplers matched up and the bout turns into a striking war. Both Matyushenko and Brilz are aging wrestlers with rather sloppy striking technique and very little diversity. I wouldn't be surprised if both men test the waters early with their striking and see how they fare. If the stand-up is relatively even, they'll likely throw down for the full fifteen minutes or until someone goes down.
Bottom Line: Neither Matyushenko or Brilz are the most exciting fighters on the planet. They prefer to wear their opponents down rather than beat them to a pulp and secure the bonus-winning finishes. That being said, both men match up against each other very evenly. This fight has potential to be exciting, but don't be surprised if it turns into a boring clinch-fest along the fence or a positional top-control ground battle.
Who will come out on top at UFC 129? Let us know in the comment section below!